Disclaimer: The opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect my actual opinions.

June 30, 2004

Programmer: Contract not worth the goddamn money

By Ross Thomas

KITCHENER, ON - The world of programmers-for-hire shook today when one developer announced his latest contract just isn't worth the goddamn money.

"I underestimated how long it would take, and undercharged the guy," said Ross Thomas, 27. "This is a complete waste of my time."

Thomas, who accepted the contract to rewrite existing Java-based software to a native Windows and Mac OS environment two months ago, began to regret his decision after only a few weeks into the contract.

"I thought it would be no big deal, it's pretty simple software," he spat bitterly. "But it's turned out to be a major pain in the ass."

Thomas partly blames the original developer of the Java code for making "a complete pig's ear" of the project.

"It's insane. You should see the code. It's all in one enormous file, and I have to plow through thousands of lines just to find the bit I'm trying to convert," he said, gesturing hopelessly towards a stack of printouts on his desk.

But he also admitted that he has to accept responsibility for what he now realises was a wildly optimistic estimate of how time-consuming the contract would be.

"I blame myself too," he said slumped over his laptop, his head buried in his hands. "Next time I'll know better."

"If there is a next time," he added.

Thomas has been working on the project for most of his waking hours and said he is beginning to doubt it'll ever be completed.

"I hate it, I hate it!" he growled at no-one in particular, before finally going to bed at 3:22am.

June 29, 2004

E Day

So today was E Day. I went to the campaign office around 2pm, drank free coffee, ate free sandwiches, and left the same message on 50 answerphones: "Hi, I'm a volunteer with the Andrew Telegdi Liberal campaign, and I'm calling to remind you that today is election day, in case you've been living under a rock for a month. Etc."

I headed to the voting station about 4:30 to scrutineer. It involved a whole lot of standing up, checking their lists against my lists, and phone calls to tardy Liberal voters. At 9:30pm the polls closed and the count was made. It soon became apparent that I'd managed successfully to intimidate the elderly and frail poll volunteers into turning up a favorable result for Telegdi, and after the last ballot box was sealed we (my wife and I) headed to his victory party.

We made straight for a TV to check the results, and much to my surprise my unorthadox predictions (see previous post) were proven too orthadox. Here's what I predicted at about noon today:

Bloc Quebecois50

And here are the actual results, as of 3:08am:

Bloc Quebecois54

As you can see, I underestimated Liberal seats by 11, Tories by one, and BQ by 4. I overestimated NDP seats by 13 and Green by one. Not bad, if I do say so myself, particularly when three of the four major polls were predicting a Tory minority win.

The bad news is that if the results stay this way, the Liberals and NDP combined still don't have enough seats to form a majority -- they have 154, one short of a majority, and will need the support of one candidate from another party, either a Tory (be it from the Conservative Party or Chuck Cadman, the ex-Tory independent candidate elected in Surrey North, BC) or a BQ. Still, one MP is acceptable. For Martin to be seen soliciting support from a handful of individual Bloc MPs would not, I think, be perceived as "getting into bed" with the separatists.

One positive result I anticipate from this result is that the NDP will hold significant sway in parliament, and one pre-condition upon which Layton has refused to budge when it comes to cooperating with the ruling party is that there be a national referendum on proportional representation within a year of the new government forming. PR is badly needed here, and this election illustrates that perfectly. Here is how the seat distribution would look if PR were in place:

Bloc Quebecois39

As you can see, the Liberals, Tories and Bloc got a disproportionate (or "efficient," in the parlance of one TV commentator) share of the vote when it comes to seats won, while the NDP and Greens were distinctly short-changed. The Greens should have 14 seats and instead they get none? The Bloc should have 39 seats and instead they have 54? Hardly fair. Let's hope the NDP doesn't renege on its commitment to PR and that we get a referendum on the matter before the year's out. I'll definitely be campaigning to get that one through...

June 28, 2004

Election prediction

I decided I'd stick my neck out and predict the outcome of today's voting. While I consider the current consensus -- a very tight race resulting in a minority, with the question of who'll lead it too close to call -- to be the most likely scenario, it's also not very interesting (in the sense that everyone else is saying it).

Thus I'm going to take a chance and say the Liberals are going to win it with a bigger minority than anyone's predicting. Based on the SES poll I mentioned in my previous post, as well as a feeling that people have disengaged somewhat from the national posturing and are instead focussing on local issues and candidates (which tends to favor the incumbents), as well as my gut feeling that Harper's party (given the sheer number of Tories going off-message, and the resulting suspicion of a hidden agenda that inspires) have lost favor, particularly in Ontario, I feel that's the most likely "surprise" outcome, if there is to be one.

Here's my utterly unscientific seat projection:

Bloc Quebecois50

Odds are I'll be proven wrong and the pollsters proven right, but at least this is more interesting than the usual "too close to call," right?

Lies, damn lies, and polls

Yesterday was a whole lot of fun. About 11am I get a call about the job, to let me know I wasn't successful. Apparently it was very close, so close that she urged me to apply again next year. Then about an hour later I get an email from a guy I'm writing software for saying he's amending the completion date from mid-July to... tomorrow. I was not best pleased.

Anyhoo, that's all water under the bridge. It's election day! As expected from the get-go, Paul Martin's Liberals will sweep the nation, winning the largest majority since Mulroney. Er... Maybe not. A minority government is almost certain, the only question being: who's gonna lead it?

The polls offer little insight. Ipsos-Reid has the Liberals with 32% against the Tories at 31%, as does EKOS. Environics has them tied at 33%. All these results are a dead heat, with the one-point difference falling easily into the margin of error. (Notably, though, SES has the Liberals at 40% and the Tories at 27%, but most analysts agree the race is far tighter.)

Where the polls begin to diverge, though, is on seat allocation. The Ipsos-Read seat projection has the Liberals at 99-103, the Tories at 115-119, the NDP at 22-26 and the Bloc Quebecois at 64-68. On the other hand, the EKOS projection has the Liberals at 117, the Tories at 109, the NDP at 27 and the Bloc at 55. This proves nothing other than seat projections based upon poll data are unreliable to say the least.

But the most important question, at least for the Liberals, is how many seats the NDP will end up with. Jack Layton is confident they'll out-do their all-time record haul of 43 seats, but that smells like wishful thinking. If the NDP and Liberals combined have enough seats to form a majority coalition, the chances are Martin will stay on as PM regardless of whether or not his party gets the plurality of seats. But if together they fall short of the magic 155, they're going to have to rely on support from the Bloc or renegade Tories. The latter is unlikely, and the former very dangerous considering the noise both Grits and Dippers have made over Harper getting into bed with the BQ.

As James Travers points out in a very interesting article in today's Toronto Star, the real winners may well be those who end up forming the opposition, since the idea of a coalition with the Bloc is wildly unpopular amongst the public. While he makes valid points, I think his argument applies more to a Stephen Harper/Gilles Duceppe coalition than it does a Martin/Duceppe one. The Bloc, being left-leaning, would naturally support most of the Liberal platform anyway, and Martin has come out strongly against Quebec sovereignty. Harper, on the other hand, would have a very tough time persuading them to support most of his campaign promises, and more importantly has continually pledged greater provincial power. The obvious suspicion is that a Tory/Bloc government would boost the separatists' cause, a concern underlined by recent comments by Parti Quebecois leader Bernard Landry that a BQ victory in Quebec would result in another referendum in five years' time.

All things considered it's going to be a very interesting election...

June 24, 2004


There's a story in the Globe and Mail today revealing that in the event of a Conservative minority win, Paul Martin may well stay on as Prime Minister on the advice of the Governor-General:

The Governor-General, Adrienne Clarkson, has been advised that if there is not a clear winner on Monday, she should opt for a lineup of parties with the best chance of governing rather than one that could lead to parliamentary chaos.

That could mean persuading Liberal Leader Paul Martin to seek a coalition or other commitment from the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, even if the Conservatives win more seats than the Liberals.

I'm sure I read this somewhere before.

They also mention she must consider popular opinion:

But the final decision, if she has to make it, will be a political one in which she and her advisers take into consideration the number of seats each party obtains, popular votes, and polls reflecting what people want.

Again, this rings a bell.

As I've said over and over, the chances of Canada having a Conservative-led coalition are slim. A further issue, which I've not seen mentioned anywhere, is whether the Governor-General would be irresponsible in allowing a separatist party, the Bloc Quebecois, to hold sway over a party, the Conservatives, who already favor increasing provincial power at the expense of federal. The Governor-General is supposed to be the Queen's representative in Canada, and it seems unlikely to me that the Queen would consider allowing a party to wield influence who were elected by the people of only one province and who stand for the destruction of the country itself. While calling this a "constitutional crisis" might be a little hysterical, it's certainly, as Ned Flanders would say, a dilly of a pickle.

June 21, 2004

Child porn

I mentioned in my previous post that child porn is once again a hot topic in Canadian society (or, at least, newspapers). The reason for this is Michael Briere, who recently pleaded guilty of sexually assaulting, murdering and dismembering a 10-year-old girl. In his statement he revealed that immediately prior to committing his crime he'd been looking at child porn on his computer.

And let the hysteria begin. "Briere's claim in the statement that he was incited by kiddie porn prompted immediate and plaintive pleas from Crown attorney Paul Culver and Holly's family for Ottawa to enact tougher laws to combat the scourge of child pornography," says the above news report from the National Post.

Now I feel enormous sympathy for the victim and her family. Briere is a monster and should be locked away, probably forever. I also despise child pornography and those who make it. They are exploiting the most vulnerable in our society, and that should always be condemned.

But, that said, one can't blame child porn for Briere's actions. "Indeed, the statement of facts suggests Holly was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and a random victim of Briere's uncontrollable impulses after he viewed kiddie porn on the Internet," the story continues.

Bullshit. There's an argument made, probably correctly, that pedophilia is an uncontrollable condition. I hesitate to compare it to homosexuality, because I just know someone's going to completely ignore my actual point and instead attack me for being homophobic, but I do think the comparison is valid. I'm not equating homosexuality with pedophilia in any other way than that they are both somehow "built in" to people. Gay rights activists have been insisting for years that "sexual preference" is an invalid phrase, that we should instead say "sexual orientation," and I agree with them. Pedophilia, I would argue, is also a sexual orientation in this sense.

Briere is a pedophile, clearly. He can't help that. But to suggest that he wasn't able to control his actions, that child porn somehow "forced" him to do what he did, is nonsense. As Rosie Dimanno points out in today's Toronto Star, the vast, vast majority of Catholic priests are able to subdue their lusts and resist their temptations. One doesn't have to act on one's impulses.

If it's really true that Briere was unable to resist his urge to have sex with a child, that would indicate he was not just a pedophile but also suffering from a personality disorder, perhaps APD. To blame anything for the actions of a sociopath, besides perhaps a miswired brain, is illogical and irresponsible. It wasn't child porn that made Briere into a killer. That part of his personality was already there.

But if one is to take the position that if he'd not had access to child porn he might've been able to contain his lust, one then also has to condemn regular pornography. It's a stretch to think that a photo of a naked pre-teen would trigger his psychopathy, but that a photo of a naked 18-year-old wouldn't. We have also to consider works of art depicting naked children, which are just as likely to titilate a pedophile, and novels and plays and sociological studies on the subject. If one begins to blame what we see for what we do, we start down a very slippery slope. We must take action not just against child porn but against regular porn, against art, against science, against movies, against TV shows. We must discount the evidence of our own experience that watching Natural Born Killers doesn't make us into psychopaths, that listening to Tupak doesn't make us into thugs, that reading Mother Theresa's A Simple Path doesn't make us into saints.

The main reason for the child porn hysteria, I believe, is our constant search for a bogeyman, some grand threat against which we must rail. Once it was witches, then space aliens and UFOs, then practitioners of satanic abuse. Now it's pedophiles. The pedophile is, perhaps, the ultimate bogeyman. Pedophilia cannot be detected, nor can it be predicted. It can be anywhere and everywhere. The fact that child sex crimes are vanishingly infrequent compared to crimes against adults shouldn't deter us from our crusade.

We condemn what we see as the increased sexualisation of children. I would argue, in fact, that such practices have decreased significantly. These days it is considered repugnant to suggest that young people have sexual desires, or can be sexually attractive. Were Shakespeare to write Romeo and Juliet now, he would be lambasted for suggesting that teenagers should be allowed to express their sexuality, as would Freud for writing that sexuality plays any role in the development of children.

Perhaps the greatest taboo, though, is to suggest that teenage females can be sexually attractive to adult males. This is to me the greatest illogicality of the whole phenomena. No-one would seriously contend that teen boys aren't attracted to teen girls, and yet there's supposed to be some magical switch in mens' heads that turns off this attraction once they pass the age of 18. Any honest man would tell you this simply isn't so.

Evolution has a lot to answer for, and the attractiveness of teenage females is one of those things. All the criteria we subconsciously use to determine a suitable mate are present in them: clear skin, clear eyes and high energy levels all indicate good health. Firm bodies indicate physical fitness. These are the things we're programmed to look for, because a fit mate means fit offspring. Nature is consistent, too: the age range during which women are most likely to survive unaided childbirth is from 15-19, and scientific studies have shown that this is also precisely the age range men find most sexually attractive (anyone who doesn't believe me can simply click here for ample proof).

Of course there are many reasons to prefer older women over teenagers: maturity, sophistication and experience, both emotionally and sexually. But none of these things matter to our reptillian brain, and that's what is responsible for our sexuality. Again it comes down to something deep in our psyche. Like homosexuals who can't control their attraction to people of the same sex, and pedophiles who can't control their attraction to children, men can't control their attraction to young (by which I mean mid- to late-teenage) girls. It's been with us for millions of years, and will remain with us at least that long.

That's not to say men should have complete freedom to act on this attraction. There are plenty of factors we, as modern humans, must take into consideration before beginning any sexual relationship, including the maturity levels of those involved. But by making it dangerous to admit the attraction exists we stifle open discussion of it. We push it underground and we make it sordid. We encourage, not discourage, the proliferation of teen porn web sites and the like, turning a genuine and universal male personality trait into something illicit, nasty and unmentionable. And freakin' expensive.

As I said, evolution has a lot to answer for. I'll be returning to similar topics later, but congratulations for staying with me this far. Men, you may now return to the above Google link. Women, you may now begin berating me via the comments box.


The Tories were on the defensive again yesterday over press releases from their war room accusing Liberal leader Paul Martin and NDP leader Jack Layton of supporting child porn because they wish to keep the so-called "public good" defence, which exempts works of art from being considered pornography. The ridiculous and hysterical accusations were withdrawn swiftly afterwards, but too late to prevent a media frenzy.

This latest uproar gets me thinking once again about the fundamental differences between conservatives and liberals, and how the ideologies of the two have shifted over time. My brother once asserted in a conversation on MSN that the difference between left and right is the former's emphasis on equality versus the latter's emphasis on freedom. I contested that definition at the time, but not strongly enough. It seems more and more these days to be conservatives supporting legislation that limits freedom, and more and more liberals defending our basic rights.

Now I think about it, it seems to me that fighting for equality isn't the opposite of fighting for freedom, but is in fact the very same thing. The belief that everyone should be considered equal is equivalent to the belief that everyone should have the freedom to be who they are. Equality and freedom are not mutually exclusive concepts: you can't have one without the other.

But the conservatives these days seem to want to restrict freedom. Removing the "public good" defence from the child porn laws could, conceivably, criminalise Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita, as well as the works (movies, etc.) derived from it, not to mention paintings by Donatello and Titian (amongst, of course, many many others) depicting naked children. And, while they've mostly pushed it under the mattress these days for fear of alienating normal people, it's well known that conservatives disfavor homosexuality to such a degree that they'd criminalise it. They also want to raise the age of consent and make abortion illegal.

This strikes me as rather far from their former position as "defenders of liberty". Indeed it's increasingly liberals who are taking up the slack when it comes to protecting rights and freedoms. The Canadian Liberals under Pierre Trudeau introduced the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the US Democrats are fighting fundamentalist Christians in the administration. Conservatives around the world seem to have turned from liberty to moralising, from individual rights to preaching a lessening of the divide between church and state.

These are just my opinions, but one thing's undeniable: politics is changing, and it's changing rapidly. We live in interesting times.

June 19, 2004

Off with their heads

Another American was beheaded yesterday by al-Qaeda. Paul Johnson, an employee of a company sub-contracted by Lockheed Martin to work on Apache attack helicopter systems, was kidnapped last weekend in Saudi Arabia, his captors demanding that the Saudi government release all its al-Qaeda prisoners. They (rightly) didn't, and Johnson paid the price. A few hours later five of the terrorists (including their leader) were killed in a shoot-out with Saudi security officers, five of whom were also killed.

"To the Americans and whoever is their ally in the infidel and criminal world and their allies in the war against Islam, this action is punishment to them and a lesson for them to know that whoever steps foot in our country, this decisive action will be his fate," said an al-Qaeda statement posted on a web site along with pictures of Johnson's body and severed head.

Al-Qaeda reality check: If it's a war against Islam you want, you should maybe take a little look at some numbers first. There were an estimated 1.2 billion Muslims in 2000, around the world, compared to 4.8 billion non-Muslims. About 70 countries have a predominently Muslim population, but there are over 200 more that don't.

As you are well aware, we infidels respect diversity. We respect different opinions, different beliefs. Our cultural axioms are freedom, tolerance and peace. We even tolerate your brand of Islam, a fact you exploit to fly our planes into our buildings, to bomb our streets, to kill our citizens. We tolerate you like we tolerated Napoleon, Wilhelm II, Hitler and Hirohito. But our tolerance towards them had its limit, and so it does towards you. We will not tolerate a serious threat to our culture and the values for which we stand.

You rewoke the sleeping giant, the giant that is democratic civilization, on September 11, 2001. You think it's oblivious to your calls for a global Islamic government, for holy war against it. But it's listening, even while it rubs its eyes and stretches, and it's starting to get pissed. Napoleon, Wilhelm II, Hitler and Hirohito all learned what happens when the giant gets pissed. Be careful what you wish for.

June 18, 2004

Humor in politics

Here's a little something I wrote over the last couple of days, inbetween working on financial planning software (sigh). I submitted it to the Globe and Mail but haven't heard back yet. Dude's got until 2pm and then I'm trying the National Post...

UPDATE: Never did hear back from the Globe. The guy at the Post said it's a nice piece but I missed the Reagan boat by a couple of days. Shouldn't've waited for a reply from the Globe I guess.

In recent days public figures have been falling over each other in a headlong rush to be heard praising former president Ronald Reagan. Republicans and Democrats, Americans and Canadians alike have heaped lavish glory, and no facet of his personality has been more often cited than his sense of humor.

Reagan was a funny guy, on the record and off. “Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement,” he once told gathered journalists. He clearly recognized the efficacy of humor in making those around him more comfortable. But Reagan also grasped, more than any politician since, how humor could be employed to defuse even the most controversial of statements.

When questioned about America’s surging debt Reagan famously replied, “I’m not worried about the deficit. It’s big enough to take care of itself.” This was no cheap gag. Reagan’s attachment to Keynesian economics is well-enough understood to say that he probably didn’t care about the deficit, but he knew he couldn’t just come out and say that. By wrapping what amounts to an incredibly important policy statement inside a joke Reagan lessened its impact considerably. It’s hard to criticize with a smile on your face, and even harder to demonize someone who makes us laugh. Could anyone other than Chris Rock or Bill Cosby slam African-American culture so hard? Bill Maher used to say, on his ABC show Politically Incorrect, “it’s all been satirized for your protection,” but really he meant his protection. We allowed him to say the things he said only because we laughed.

Another aspect of humor Reagan understood was its ability to neutralize or even reverse his perceived weaknesses. In a 1984 debate against 56-year-old political veteran Walter Mondale, amid concerns that Reagan (the oldest president ever to have served) might not be able to withstand the grueling schedule for another term, he quipped that he would not “make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Even Mondale thought it was funny, until he lost in a landslide.

Often the most successful and beloved politicians have been those with a well-developed sense of humor. Winston Churchill was a fine orator and a widely respected historian and author, but it’s his witticisms that are most often quoted. He was often cruelly dismissive of his opponents on a very personal level, but he like Reagan knew that an attack couched in humor is not only well received but also well remembered. “A modest man with much to be modest about,” said Churchill of his rival Clement Atlee, and described how “an empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing St, and when the door was opened, Atlee got out.” In contrast, Atlee’s remark that “fifty percent of Winston is genius, fifty percent bloody fool” comes across as petulant envy.

Humor is missing in action from today’s political rhetoric. Tuesday evening’s debate between our party leaders was almost entirely bereft of levity, aside from Paul Martin’s jab at Jack Layton, when he enquired, “did your handlers tell you to talk all the time?”. Layton, probably genuinely offended, responded hotly and a touch sanctimoniously by accusing Martin of making light of the issue.

Are our politicians simply unfunny people? It’s statistically improbable that all four of the leaders we watched Tuesday have no sense of humor whatsoever. More likely, humor has fallen out of favor in contemporary politics. As CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield said during a 2002 forum on the subject, humor is the “nitroglycerin of politics: it is very powerful, very dangerous, and has to be handled with great care.” It’s easy for a joke to be misinterpreted, or for it to fall flat on its face, leaving the deliverer waiting, embarrassingly, for laughter that never arrives. Better to keep it straight. This is serious business, politics, as Layton’s trembling indignation testifies.

But does anyone really believe that, powerful as it is, nitroglycerin should never be used? In skilled hands it can demolish obstacles and destroy enemies. Humor, as we’ve seen, can do the same. What’s more, a sense of humor is a very attractive character trait. Reagan’s knack for humor was, I contend, a major factor behind his popularity with both Republicans and Democrats. Funny people are easier to empathise with, and more immediately likeable, than the deadly serious. Most importantly, for politicians at least, they are also easier to forgive.

Of course, no-one wants a clown for a prime minister – Pierre Trudeau’s pirouette bordered on the ridiculous – but if the election coverage thus far has told us anything, it’s that we want a leader we can trust. In other words, we want someone like us, someone with whom we feel connected. Humor has the potential to bridge the gap between us and them more effectively than any other device.

So please, Mr Martin, Mr Harper, Mr Layton, Mr Harris, Mr Duceppe, amuse us once in a while. Amuse us deliberately, not just with your political pratfalls. Do that and it might well be you having the last laugh come June 28.

June 10, 2004

I'm always right

As I discussed recently, it's extremely unlikely that Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe will form a coalition should the Conservatives win a minority. New poll data suggests that Canadians are firmly opposed to such a deal, but mostly in favour of a coalition between Paul Martin's Liberals and Jack Layton's NDP.

Ipsos-Reid claims 61% of respondents considered a Tory/Bloc coalition unacceptable, but that's slightly misleading since it includes people who either didn't have an opinion or refused to answer. Once those people are removed from the data, the figure jumps to 64%. But much more important for Harper is support outside of Quebec. Once Quebeckers are discounted, the figure becomes 72% -- nearly three-quarters of non-Quebec Canadians disapprove of a Tory/Bloc coalition. That's not good, from Harper's perspective, especially since 74% of Ontarians also disapprove.

The figures are pretty bleak for Duceppe, too. 43% of Quebeckers who expressed an opinion said they disapprove of a Tory/Bloc coalition, while 58% said they'd approve of a Liberal/NDP alliance. Nationwide 60% of Canadians with an opinion either way said they'd approve of a Liberal/NDP coalition, with 65% of Ontarians supporting such an arrangement.

To sum up, then:

  1. It's not going to happen
  2. I'm always right

The poll data also shows no change in the overall party rankings, with the Liberals and Conservatives standing firm at 32% and 31% respectively. This lends support to my contention that the Liberal backlash is bottoming out, while the Tory surge has peaked. With the Liberals announcing a new negative campaign against Harper's policies (what they should've been doing all along), I predict the two parties will begin to diverge once more, with the Liberals gaining points from both the Tories and the NDP.

June 09, 2004

Canadian weather...

...sucks. Really. Now I'm the first one to castigate people who complain about the weather -- you know, they complain in winter because it's too cold and snowy, and they complain in summer because it's too hot and humid. With very rare exception every Canadian winter is cold and snowy, and every Canadian summer is hot and humid. That's the norm. Surely, then, it's completely illogical to complain about it. It's like bitching that we have to keep breathing in and out to stay alive.

Except it's not quite like that, because the respiration thing is unavoidable (well, except by dying). The problem of Canadian weather can be solved quite easily, by... moving somewhere else. I was thinking about this earlier while walking home after dropping off my youngest at school, in what felt like 58 degrees C, and got to wondering what factors could compel me to go live in a different country.

Course, I have a bit of a head start on that question because I already did emigrate, from the UK to Canada. That time many factors contributed to the decision to move: I was stuck in a rut, a general malaise, I'd been living at home for a year after dropping out of college (I blame pot, partly, for annihilating my self-discipline, of which I had little to begin with), was toying with the idea of starting my own company but never really got anywhere with it. Add to that my parents' constant fighting, which often escalated to such a level that I'd sneak a bottle of whisky into my room and just sit there drinking, usually until I passed out. It was easier than trying to moderate the argument, because I had a hard time not taking sides. That said, over the years I developed an ability to distance myself from the conflict, and could often see why each person was angry. This was confusing because it had always been my approach to side with my mother, since she was the one who raised me, alone, for the first decade of my life, and I felt extremely protective towards her. But once I got into my teen years and started to mature intellectually I was able to see my father's point of view too, and could see how unreasonable my mother could be sometimes, how aggressive and domineering, especially when drunk. I think this is one of the reasons I can seem cold sometimes: I spent too many years having to resolve the conflicts in which I was an unwilling participant, yet in which I had an enormous emotional investment.

Anyway, that was one of the factors influencing my move to Canada. That and my mother's cancer, which ate away at the entire family at the same time it was eating her, and my father's infidelity, which felt like cheating on all of us, not just her. I wanted to get away, probably needed to, and I've always found drastic solutions much more effective than half-assed efforts. At that point my method of escape was through drink and the Internet, and that's how I met Caz. It was in an IRC chat room, my parents had been fighting and I'd been drinking, and I was getting myself in an emotional knot over the death of my nephew, who'd drowned a few years before in our pool (maybe I'll talk about that another time), and needed someone to talk with. I went into a room more or less at random and was immediately kicked out because of my hostname (it was a Christian room and my ISP was demon.co.uk, go figure), so I did a list of the users in the channel and one nickname jumped out at me: "korion." I recognised it, in a I-can't-quite-place-it kind of way, and so sent a message asking why I'd been kicked out. That's when my life changed.

So I had this girl in Canada I was crazy about, nothing to look forward to in England except more fights, more drinking, and, eventually, my mother dying. I desperately tried to think of a way to get out there, here, to Canada, so I could start again. That's when my dad offered to pay for me to go to Humber College, in Toronto, to take a journalism course. He taught there in the summers as part of their School for Writers, he knew the head of the program, and asked her if I'd be able -- despite not having a degree -- to take their two-year post-graduate journalism certificate. She agreed, if I got 90% or more on their entrance test. I got 97%, and was in. The next few months were a blur, and somehow I ended up one day in a room in residence, surrounded by boxes, and a whole new future ahead of me.

So that's what made me move country the first time. What else could make me do it? I think that was the point of this, originally... Well, perhaps if Canada reintroduced the death penalty. That sounds hysterical, but I'd rather emigrate than live in a country willing to allow such things to happen. The same applies for conscription. Call me a coward, if you like. I'm not dying so that politicians and their offspring might live. As for the weather, that's not quite enough to force me to consider living elsewhere (though sometimes it's close, particularly when I'm shovelling knee-deep snow). I think the most likely reason for doing it would be boredom. Unfathomable to most, perhaps, it being almost axiomatic that "your country is your country," that anyone who doesn't feel patriotic or nationalistic has something wrong with them, that one should have an innate attachment to all things Canadian, or American, or British. It's not true. I'm a British citizen, and soon to be a Canadian one too, but I'm not "British" in the grand sense of top hats and imperialism, and nor will I ever be "Canadian," as much as I like hockey and good government. I'm a human being living on planet Earth, and my innate attachment is to my fellow man. I'll be me whatever country I live in. You might think that's unpatriotic, but I couldn't care less. Patriotism is tribalism wrapped in sophistry, "the veneration of real estate above principles," in George Jean Nathan's words, and I'd rather be thought of as principled than patriotic any day.

Wow, all that from Canadian weather. I'd like to thank the 0.18% of readers who made it this far, Bob and Harvey, and the Academy. Unfortunately I have no real point and no great truth to reveal. Sorry.

June 06, 2004

Five-star ego

I was playing around in iPhoto, looking through the pics I've rated at "5 stars", and thought I should post some here to make a change from banging on about politics. You can click them for a bigger pic, should you so desire.

(Santa Anna; mom in the background; protein, anyone?; Valencia basket store; angel of Plaza del Ayuntamiento.)

Hair conundrum

How is it that my wife and I can go to the very same stylist, on the very same day, and when my wife walks out she looks like a completely different person, yet when I walk out my hair is basically identical to how it was before, albeit not quite so startlingly exuberant?

It's as unfair as it is baffling.

June 04, 2004

Brave Tory punches 58-year-old homosexual

In a demonstration of the humanity, dignity and compassion that are fundamental tenets of conservatism, a Tory party supporter laid a punch on gay rights activist Bob Smyth, 58, at a Stephen Harper rally in Guelph, Ontario yesterday.

Smyth and Laurie Arron, 41, of the group Canadians for Equal Marriage, stood up during the rally and attempted to confront Harper on the issue of gay marriage. They were greeted with howls of "shut up, shut up" from the democracy-loving Tory faithful then battered with "Vote Harper" signs, before Smyth was assaulted by "a senior citizen". The two activists were then dragged from the room by police, who apparently failed to take any action against the hot-headed Harperians.

Harper later expressed regret for the incident, saying he wished people would "treat each other respectfully."

"And, I mean, come on, he's 58 and gay. Who the hell punches a 58-year-old gay dude?", he didn't add.

Meanwhile the Tory campaign continues to unravel, with Harper expressing astonishment that people are dwelling on social issues such as abortion, capital punishment and gay marriage rather than concentrating on what's really important, such as his tax cuts favouring the well-off (annual savings for those with an income of $40,000: $469. Annual savings for those with an income of $70,000: $2,494).

A minority opinion

The latest public opinion polls seem to point to either a Liberal or Conservative minority. Even if we assume -- and this is a stretch -- that polls can be trusted, given the tendency of Canadian voters to swing wildly during the election run-up, this is still bad news for Harper's Tories.

In the event of a party winning fewer than 50% + 1 of the seats in parliament, the current prime minister (in this case, of course, the Liberals' Paul Martin) has a choice. He can either resign, in which case the governor general would call upon Harper to attempt to form a coalition and obtain the necessary quota of seats, or he can stay as prime minister. It's not hard to guess which road Paul Martin would take. (Note: Technically it's the cabinet that is given the choice, but I shall refer just to the prime minister, the head of the cabinet, for the sake of simplicity.)

If he stays and his government faces a vote of no confidence (which would happen more or less immediately), and if that vote is lost, he again has two choices: resign and let Harper try to make a coalition, or ask the governor general to dissolve parliament once more and call another election. The govenor general can refuse another election and force Martin to step down, but that wouldn't happen for one very good reason: the Tories have no friends in parliament, and could not form a viable, stable coalition.

There's no possible way that either the left-wing NDP or the centre-left Liberals would consider a coalition with the right-wing Harper. His only choice, and the only party that would even think about joining him in a coalition, is the Bloc Quebecois. But the Bloc is even more left-wing than the Liberals, and its members would have serious misgivings about teaming up with the Tories (they've even supported the Liberals, their archrivals, in order to defeat Tory motions in the past).

But even more importantly, the Bloc is a separatist party. Minority governments have a very difficult balancing act: their every move must be delicately crafted not only to keep the support of their coalition partners, but also the support of the voters. If, at any time, a minority government loses a major vote, that's considered a vote of no confidence and the above rules apply. The prime minister must either resign or call another election. Voters must be kept on side at all times, in case a vote is lost and an election called.

This is a big problem for Harper, and for Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe. If they really were to get into bed together, Harper would lose his support in federalist Ontario -- and no-one can win an election without that province on board -- and Duceppe would lose the support of separatist socialist Quebeckers, who would not only see his participation in the federal government as an act of validation towards an institution they despise, but also resent his involvement with a right-wing party.

Despite initial flirtations both Harper and Duceppe have declared they won't chum up with each other in the event of a Tory minority, with only one possible consequence: Martin would decide to stay on as prime minister and form a coalition with one or more of the other left-leaning parties, most likely the NDP, who would delight in the prospect of finally achieving a degree of influence in federal politics.


Sport is agony, heartache, crushing disappointment. It's sublime, delicious, frantic. Sport is a drug, a euphoric Ecstasy, a numbing Valium, and fans-slash-junkies line up for hours to get a hit. But if sport is a drug, it's an unpredictable one. We know our team might lose, supporters plunged into collective despair, but still we empty our wallets for a seat, we ready our recliner for a night bellowing at the TV. We succumb to a kind of mass masochism.

So why do we do it? Why do we care who gets the most balls through a hoop, the most pucks into a net? Why don't we all believe, like Noam Chomsky and other earnest social revolutionaries, that sport is a distraction designed to "keep the rabble in line", keep the populous concerned with trivialities while the elite gets on with ruling the planet to their advantage? And why do men make up the majority of sport fans?

In fact, that last question also provides the answer. Sport fans are mostly male because sport activates that most masculine of chemicals: testosterone. The intense competition floods the male brain with testosterone and we become like animals, sometimes in a very literal sense. Witness the violence of soccer fans, who leave the stadium hellbent on destruction. One would expect the most violence to be carried out by supporters of the losing team, frustrated by their defeat, but in fact it's the winners who usually causes the most problems. Again, the explanation is testosterone. Success, victory, winning causes more testosterone to be released than losing, and it's testosterone that makes men mad.

Warfare is another predominently male activity, and again testosterone is responsible. The parallels between war and sport are obvious. Sport is war writ small, and the two activities even share a great deal of vocubulary: teams clash against each other, they defend and attack, they battle for control, they fight for the puck. Sport, like war, has its propaganda, its myth, its rousing speeches, its victors and losers, its jingoism and slurs, its rituals and rules. This is never more true than in international competition, when great rivals face each other on the field. "Two World Wars and one World Cup, doo-dah, doo-dah" chant the English soccer fans at their German counterparts, who respond with their own equally irrational provocation.

Maybe Chomsky is right, after all. Maybe sport is a distraction. Perhaps by pouring our aggression into sport, by spending our testosterone on this "trivial" thing, men are less inclined to turn against each other with murder in mind. It would be naive to think that all national differences can or should be played out with balls and pucks instead of blood and iron, but one can't help wonder if Chomsky's call to abandon sport in favour of political activism might be far more dangerous than just letting us play.

June 03, 2004

Ridiculous names revisited

A friend brings to my attention the Tory candidate for Toronto-Danforth, Loftus Cuddy. What a superbly ridiculous moniker, suitable for the grandest bewhiskered 19th century industrialist. He sneaks in below Saxby Chambliss but above Newt Gingrich. One day I shall have to compile a table of standings and place it in the sidebar.


Returning to the subject of absurd names, I finally came across one that topples Saxby Chambliss from the number one spot. Today on MSN my brother told me the following story:

xxx@xxx.xxx says: sacha and i were in a posh church in nyc for easter sunday, full of really rich new york episcopalians. highly formal and fashionable. anyway the church was full and sacha and i are sitting there when sacha starts shaking, making the whole pew wobble. i say 'what's wrong?' and he shows me the easter sunday pamphlet which said that the day's flowers had been paid for

xxx@xxx.xxx says: by mister 'kermit t kuck'. at which point i start laughing as well and we nearly get thrown out of new york's most fashionable church.

Yes! Kermit T Kuck! I think this one might forever reign supreme.

June 02, 2004

Legalize drunk driving

Okay, okay, this one's a bit controversial. Comments brimming over with hate and vitriol are always welcome, but please read to the end first, alright?

The conceptual problems begin right at the source, in section 253 of Canada's Criminal Code. Section 253 is within Part VIII, "Offences Against The Person And Reputation". Which person, exactly, is an offence committed against when someone "operates a motor vehicle ... while the person's ability to operate the vehicle ... is impaired by alcohol or a drug"? Who's involved, at that point, according to the code? Only the driver. Read the section. It specifically does not refer to causing death or injury to a person or damage to a reputation. This offence -- if legitimate at all -- certainly doesn't belong in this part of the code, which contains, amongst other delights, infanticide, rape and concealing dead bodies.

That may sound like a trivial point, but it cuts to the very core of the objections I have to this offence. On its own, driving a vehicle while impaired hurts no-one and damages nothing. The actus reus of this offence is simply being drunk while in control of a vehicle. That just doesn't sit right with me. Surely criminal law exists so that we can punish antisocial behaviour, so that people who hurt others (physically, financially, or otherwise) or damage property they don't own can be dealt with in an appropriate manner. Sure, if you drive your car while drunk there's the potential that you might hurt someone, or crash into something and break it. But that's all there is: potential.

Many of the things we do every day carry the potential that something will go wrong and we'll end up causing damage. Whether it's climbing into a car or boiling a pan of water anywhere near small children, we run the risk that someone's gonna get hurt. Risk is unavoidable. I would argue that one cannot, and should not, base any legislation on what could happen given a certain behaviour. Driving while drunk is riskier than driving while sober in the same way that frying eggs is riskier than making a peanut butter sandwich. Impaired driving is the automotive equivalent of running with scissors. It's stupid, but not inherently criminal.

Of course, being drunk reduces your capacity to control the vehicle correctly and safely. But so does eating in your car, or drinking coffee, or smoking, or talking, or listening to the radio, or changing CDs, or putting on lipstick, or looking at the scenery, or anything, really, except staring out of the windshield at the road ahead. If we want to maximise the care taken by drivers while they hurtle along in their two-ton box of metal we should ban all these things. Ban drive-thrus, ban passengers, ban car audio equipment, ban mirrors on sun visors, ban attractive landscapes, ban thinking about anything except the task at hand, which is to steer the vehicle to your destination without killing someone.

I realise at this point that Mothers Against Drunk Driving™ sympathisers are probably apoplectic. They'll be fuming about me showing no respect for the victims of drunk drivers, about me having the nerve to question their anti-alcohol rhetoric. Well, since they're already seriously annoyed, let's take this opportunity to examine one of their "facts" about alcohol-related road deaths.

The M.A.D.D. Hamilton Chapter's web site claims that "4 Canadians [are] killed each day" by drunk drivers. They give no reference for this statistic, of course, but let's extrapolate that out to get a yearly figure and see how that compares with an actual scientific study. Four people killed per day is 1,460 deaths per year -- remember, that's the M.A.D.D. figure. Let's compare that with data collected by The Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada on behalf of Transport Canada. The table on page 20 (table 3-1) reveals that in 2000 981 people were killed in provably alcohol-related accidents, with an estimated 1,069 killed in alcohol-related accidents were the blood alcohol level of the driver known in 100% of cases.

Even given their highest figure, which is, I repeat, an estimate, M.A.D.D.'s "four killed per day" is already over the mark by 36%. If we take their lowest figure, M.A.D.D. is out by nearly 50%. As if that weren't bad enough, there are other factors to be taken into consideration. Table 3-1 also reveals that of the 981 people killed in alcohol-related accidents, 638 of them were the drivers themselves. Can one really consider them to be "innocent victims"? If they are victims at all they are victims of their own stupidity. The same applies for most of the 220 passengers killed each year, who shouldn't've got in a car with a drunk in the first place.

Given this, let's massage the data a little: 981 minus 638 drivers minus, at a conservative guess, 120 passengers who knew the driver was intoxicated equals 223 genuine victims of drunk driving. This is 7% of the 3,162 people killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2000. One can see why M.A.D.D. likes to exaggerate a tad. So if 981 of the 3,162 deaths were caused by alcohol, what caused the 2,181 others? Big Macs? Du Mauriers? Fan 590? Kids shrieking in the back seat? We'd better start legislating right now if we really want to make a difference.

Let me be clear: I'm not arguing for unbridled alcoholic consumption if you know you're gonna be in charge of a vehicle. Drunk driving is massively irresponsible and reckless, and demonstrates a profound lack of consideration for the well-being of your fellow man. I don't condone it, I abhor it. I feel intense sympathy for the families of those killed by drunk drivers, and none of the above is meant to diminish their loss. One person killed by a drunk driver is one too many.

That said, I always like to wrap things up with a cheap laugh, so let's poke fun at another of M.A.D.D.'s statistics: in 1995 nearly 17,000 Canadians were hospitalised because of alcohol-related accidental falls. Such senseless tragedies could be prevented if only Mothers Against Moving Around Whilst Drunk had a cute acronym.

June 01, 2004

String 'em up

Yet more evidence that Conservatives are, universally, completely deranged. Stephen Harper, leader of the federal Conservative Party of Canada, unveiled the "law and order" (a.k.a. "string 'em up") segment of his platform today, promising to get tough on crime by introducing, amongst other things, a registry of sex offenders and a US-style three-strikes-and-you're-out rule for those convicted of sexual or violent crimes. Seems he's been thinking about sex a lot recently.

Aside from the sex offence registry, which is a no-brainer for gaining popular support (he'll even put juveniles on the list, bless him), the three-strikes proposal is particularly moronic, even for a Tory. If I really get started on this one I'll run the Xanga site completely out of hard drive space, but suffice to say that sentencing should be done by judges, not by politicians. It should be done on a case by case basis, where circumstances can be weighed. The US three-strikes laws have been tremendously effective -- effective, that is, at filling up prisons so that one-time or two-time murderers are being let free after less than a decade in prison, due to overcrowding.

He'll also ban conditional sentences such as house arrest for violent, sexual (there he goes again) and weapon-related crimes. This is a great idea, except that sentencing should be done by judges, not by politicians. As if that weren't enough, Harper will remove the so-called "faint hope" law allowing convicted murderers the possibility (note: possibility) of parole after serving 15 years of a life sentence.

Oh, and Harper will remove the "public good" clause from the child porn laws, making works of art depicting naked children (like this one, perhaps, by infamous Renaissance child pornographer Titian) illegal.

This man might actually get elected. I leave you now to weep.